You might have guessed that I find the political process deeply interesting. The politicians themselves, probably less so (do we really need another profile on Truffles Turnbull and his wife?) But the ins and outs of the electoral process, and the way different parties and organisations try to modulate these to their respective advantages is like catnip for me. Political catnip. Now there’s a thought. Take, for example, the difference between Australian politics and the UK system – ostensibly both very similar, drawn from the same roots, but also having developed into quite different species. Or even the differences in Australian states – for example, the questionable Queensland experiment of removing the upper house.
Anyway, politics is, as some might tell you, is about the organisation of power. And power, if you’re a critical theorist or a post-modernist, can sometimes be about discourses. People – masses of people – are far from the objective creatures that we might like to consider ourselves, and in fact are influenced by all kinds of subjective emotions and instinctual reactions. That makes us easy to sway, and we are definitely swayed by the idea of a story or a discourse that wraps us up in a warm embrace, and convinces us that everything is unfolding as it should – and who better to promulgate that discourse than that nice intelligent man that we can elect to be Prime Minister. Of course, it very rarely ends up like that – one need only look at the debacle of the Abbot Government to realise that, discourse or not, some measure of talent and negotiating capacity is required to run a country.
So what is the discourse of our times? Anti-establishmentism. I listened to Bill Shorten speak at Glenmore Park on Saturday. It was a big crowd, and there were lots of more senior people, all of whom wanted to hear about Bill’s plans to oppose GST increases, and oppose any changes to the pensions, and basically ensure that their basic needs were met. It was a big meeting that was focused on small issues. There wasn’t a single mention of climate change or asylum seekers – two topics that dominate the headlines on a regular basis. Instead, it was a discussion of the politics of me. To be honest, I left the meeting wondering if Bill was angling to become an Australia Tea Party – not in the rabid, climate-change denying, crazy sense, but in the opposition to big ideas and big government.
In short, I was wondering if Australia is seeing the rise of the politics of the outsider? It’s happening elsewhere – Jeremy Corbyn, despite apparently never having a chance to be elected as leader of the Labour Party in the UK, swept into power. No one reckons he could challenge the Tories, but why would you listen to the pundits who got it so catastrophically wrong before? In the US, the real stories of the election there is about the two outsider candidates – Trump and Sanders – and the fact that they represent an increasingly realistic alternative to two political pedigrees in the Bushes and the Clintons.